8
November

Andy Shepherd

andy new headshotAndy is a UK-based children’s author. She is represented by Jo Williamson at the Antony Harwood Literary Agency and her debut, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ will be published by Piccadilly Press in Spring 2018, to be followed by two more titles.

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15
September

Beautiful Books

Recently I got to meet someone who takes up rather a lot of shelf space in our house – the wonderful Chris Riddell. Our whole family love his work and we all have our personal favourites – mine being Ottoline.

He gave a wonderfully entertaining lecture titled ‘The Age of the Beautiful Book’, in which we heard about his early influences and his discovery of social media and how he draws on the pages of his own and other people’s books to bring something new to the text.

He sketched throughout the lecture, the illustrations enriching and expanding his story telling.  One phrase that really stuck in my mind was when he said ‘ pictures turbo boost words’. And he is absolutely right.

As a writer I assumed I was all about the words and always had been. But recently, when I was going through some of my childhood books at my parents, I realised just how big a part pictures played in my childhood reading. Here are just some of those books whose pictures I loved and can remember as vividly today.

As I ‘oohed and ahhed’ over the books I was rediscovering it wasn’t always the stories that I remembered most and felt such fondness for but the illustrations. (In fact in some cases I couldn’t even remember much about what happened in the story, but I saw the picture and was instantly transported to a memory.)

Given how much time I spent with my head in the Beano or Dandy or Asterix, it shouldn’t really surprise me that pictures played such a big part when it came to reading books. But I don’t think I ever really stopped to recognise that.

I didn’t see them as separate from the book and therefore didn’t really think about looking into the illustrator behind the artwork.

In fact, I feel quite ashamed that it has taken me this long to find out the names of the illustrators I most loved and who had such a profound effect on my reading.

Their names were Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. And their work was as important in fostering my love of books as the stories I was reading. Here is one of their illustrations from Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales.

But they weren’t alone. I have loved revisiting my childhood books and finding out more about who was behind the wonderful images that have stuck so firmly in my mind.

One of my other favourite books was ‘The Family From One End Street’ written and indeed illustrated by Eve Garnett:

And I loved the illustrations by Edward Ardizzone for ‘Stig of the Dump’.

When Piccadilly Press told me they envisaged my own books being highly illustrated I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled to find out that Sara Ogilvie had agreed to work on them.

The first time I saw the cover for ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ I actually squealed. But who can blame me? Sara has created something really special.  Having just received the final artwork for the book I am even more excited. Her illustrations have such detail and energy and ooze charm. Not only this, the design team have done an amazing job with the layout and adding another level of detail with scorch marks on the pages and ink splodges and claw marks throughout.

The campaign #PicturesMeanBusiness led by Sarah McIntyre couldn’t be more aptly titled. They do mean business. The right cover can make the difference between someone picking your book up or passing it by. And the illustrations inside can do so much to draw in and engage the reader,  as well as enhancing their experience of the text.

As Chris Riddell said, pictures also mean beauty. He spoke about wanting to put beautiful books into the hands of readers.

And I am delighted – and very grateful – that Sara has made ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ so beautiful.

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11
September

SCBWI Agents Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it’s that time of year again – the final countdown to the SCBWI Agents’ Party. Four years ago I was psyching myself up to go to my first SCBWI event, where for the first time I would meet real life agents! I wrote this Q&A in the lead up to the party last year for the SCBWI team organising the party, but can’t find where it was posted so thought I would copy it here. I hope it reassures anyone who is thinking of going – it really is a FAB event.

 

How did you meet your agent?

I met Jo [Williamson from the Antony Harwood Agency] at the Agents’ Party in 2013. I’d only just joined SCBWI and I saw a mention of the party. It sounded like such a great idea that I booked a ticket straight away – basically before I had time to think and get cold feet! In fact I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do it. I hadn’t been to any events before and I very quickly felt terrified at the thought of being in a room with not just other writers but agents too. But something stopped me running for the hills – thankfully!

Did you speak to Jo at the Agents’ Party that year or just hear her speak?

There were several panelists that evening, it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere and I was reassured to realise that my perception of agents was actually unfounded (I was picturing Alien here!). They were in fact very friendly and it was a really informative and useful Q & A.

The scary bit came next when we were let loose on the poor agents! I’d honed my pitch to within an inch of its life but actually saying it to someone was unbelievably hard. Words suddenly lose all meaning in this kind of situation and I was aware of wanting to get everything across without sounding like an autobot. But a smile goes a long way and the agents were very smiley which made approaching them a lot easier.

In the end I pitched to every single one – which given I’d psyched myself up for a grand old total of one, I was pretty chuffed with. Jo was actually the last person I spoke to. And I so nearly let myself off the hook, thinking I’d done way more than I expected that I could let this one go. But again something wouldn’t let me.

It was particularly hard because as I stood waiting to pounce on her I heard Jo say: ‘Wow that was the best pitch of the night’ – to someone else! But instead of running for the hills , again I thought, right – time to step up.

(I mention this because again I’m not sure where the resolve came from, but sometimes we just surprise ourselves – and to reassure anyone else out there who is reluctant/terrified/already running for the hills that it can be done!)

As a result of the Party I suddenly had multiple requests for the full manuscript and within a week I’d received two offers of representation. I knew from our meeting that night and after talking to her on the phone that Jo was definitely the right person to sign with. I went with my gut and I’ve not regretted it for one minute.

Did you have to do a lot of rewriting on your book after signing with Jo?

Jo had some notes, which were really helpful, but it wasn’t major rewriting at this stage. She was happy to send it out about a month later to the first round of publishers.

What happened after that?

We had a lot of love for that particular book and several very close calls but have yet to find the right home for the story. Sadly the market is tough for ‘quiet’ books. We still both believe in this one though and I’m currently embarking on a more major rewrite having collated all the editorial feedback we’ve received along the way. It might sting at first when you get a rejection but I’m always glad when an editor takes the time to offer it. It’s worth its weight in gold.

While it was on submission I carried on working on the picture book texts and a new book for 6-9 year olds called The Boy Who Grew Dragons. This is the one I got my three-book deal for.

What has surprised you about having an agent?

Agents seem to work in different ways and the working relationship with a writer can vary a great deal. I know some agents offer quite a lot of editorial feedback and others don’t. So the biggest surprise I guess is finding out how people’s experiences differ. That and how much more time I have to write now I don’t have to spend hours getting submissions out!

For me Jo has been invaluable. Not just getting my work in front of publishers/editors who I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise but the fact I have someone cheering me on and buoying me up in the face of rejections. And most importantly giving feedback and editorial input on the work and helping to navigate and negotiate contracts.

What’s your advice to people attending this year’s Agents’ Party?

GO!

Hone your pitch till it sparkles, believe in your book, let them see your enthusiasm for it till they can’t help but want a peek at it.

And even if you don’t feel ready to speak to the agents, you’ll pick up loads of useful info from the evening and meet lots of other writers at the same stage. I met some brilliant people that night, I’ve stayed in touch with them and they’ve introduced me to an even bigger tribe on Twitter.

What would be your top question to ask a prospective agent?

Tricky. For me it was ‘How did you feel when Howard left?’ Which will mean nothing to anyone not watching “Bake Off” in 2013. We bonded over Bake Off!

The fact I was talking to Jo about Bake Off within the first few email exchanges spoke volumes about how comfortable and relaxed I felt around her. This was really important for me. There are enough ups and downs on this writer journey that having someone on your side, who you also get on with, is a huge plus.

Seriously though, there are some useful blog posts out there with lists of questions to ask and I’d definitely do some research before you approach an agent, or if you are in the lucky position of having more than one to choose between!

At the end of the day it’s important to feel confident about the person who will be representing you and your work and to feel they have a real passion about your book – and are interested in you as a writer for the long haul. But also that they really know the industry and are tenacious enough to get your work published.

I hope everyone who goes to the Agents’ Party has a great night!

Good luck!

 

 

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19
June

My first author visit

I’ve always loved writing and although there have been long periods where I was pretty dormant – thinking about writing rather than actually doing the writing (!) – I’ve always pictured myself holding a book with my name on it.

When my youngest son started school I decided to go from just dreaming about it to making it happen. But of course it took awhile.

Whenever I got rejections I always imagined myself standing in my sons’ school in an assembly telling them all about my books. It was an image that kept me going. I knew how much my sons would love it, especially after witnessing all the ups and downs along the way.

It was wonderful when I finally got the news last year that Piccadilly Press wanted to publish three of my books.

And today I got to do the talk I’d been imagining for so long. It was lovely sharing that with my boys in their school with lots of familiar faces.

It all started in the term my son walked into Reception and the first book – The Boy Who Grew Dragons – will be in our hands in his final term of Primary school.

It will have taken 7 years (and the previous 30 dreaming about it) to get there – but it was so worth it.

Thank you to all the fabulous kids at St Helens for making my first talk so much fun.

Everyone did brilliantly to survive the heat. I take that as a very good sign that if they are planning on growing dragons they will all be able to handle their dragon’s fiery outbursts extremely well!

Looking forward to many more school visits.

Here’s me all ready for the talk – with my little helper!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16
May

The Boy Who Grew Dragons – Cover Reveal!

SO excited to have the final cover for my first book – The Boy Who Grew Dragons – by the amazing Sara Ogilive. And completely thrilled with what she has done. I love it! Especially spotting those dragons peeping out of the dragon fruit! Thank you Sara!!

Here’s the official cover reveal by brilliant blogger BookLoverJo

https://bookloverjo.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/cover-reveal-the-boy-who-grew-dragons-andy-shepher/

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10
February

This Time Last Year

Today I spent a happy hour looking through my box of childhood scribblings. As well as notebooks, folders and scrappy bits of paper I found my first attempt at a book. (Along with a rather lovely letter from Douglas Adams. I’d written to ask if he minded me writing a book that was basically my version of ‘The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – which I utterly loved.) The poems and stories I flicked through and that letter reminded me just how long I have dreamt of being a writer.

It also made me take a moment. Because this time last year I nearly gave up. Not writing – because I can’t stop doing that now I’ve finally started again – but the whole Getting Published Thing. I’d given it a damn good go. I’d got tantalisingly close on my first middle grade novel and on my picture book series. So close that I’d thought it was in the bag. But sadly, there was no cigar.

And although I’d had some interest in my second book, that too ended up as a non-starter after I decided that the publisher’s request to ‘make it shorter and younger’ just wasn’t what I felt was right for the story.

So following my mentor’s advice, I wrote The Next Thing. And this time I really thought this was ‘The One’. But, sadly, it wasn’t the case. Now I had been getting tougher, more resilient to rejection – let’s face it, I’d been getting some practise in – but this one really hurt. And it stopped me in my tracks, which hadn’t happened for a long time. I mean, all rejections hurt, but I’d been picking myself up pretty quickly. Within days anyway, not months, like it had taken in the very beginning.

Maybe it was it because it was a quite personal story, maybe it was because they just didn’t seem to “get” the book at all. Maybe it was because it was a cold miserable January or because I’d just poured out my heart for six months and wasn’t ready to submit it and feel the sting of other people’s opinions yet. Whatever the reason, that rejection really hurt. And I seriously wondered if – despite all the hard work and perseverance to get the books written, get an agent and put myself out there – I should step back. Maybe not forever, but for a while.

Fast-forward another month or so – skipping over the time where I wasn’t much fun to be around – I suddenly got a call from my agent.

It turned out she had taken my second book, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ to London Book Fair – and had got quite a lot of interest!

Exciting enough – although having been on the roller coaster of: ‘They love it, they want it – Oh **** they don’t want it’ a number of times, I was braced for the impending Downer.

Except this time it didn’t come. Two weeks later I was heading into the South Bank Centre with my agent, the lovely Jo Williamson (aka Super Agent Jo) to meet two publishers. And by the end of the day I’d been offered a three-book deal!

The turn-around was bizarre and it’s still something I have to pinch myself about, nine months later. Publication date isn’t until June 2018 but I’ve been busy writing the next two books, and editing the first one.

It’s been a thrilling ride so far. But I’m always aware how close I came to letting that particular ‘No’ derail me.

Part of the reason I didn’t give up any time in the last five years – and why I doubt I would actually have walked away last January however low I felt about that rejection – is because of hearing about the long and winding roads other writers have taken to getting published. I took great inspiration from SF Said, Abi Elphinstone and Caroline Green. They all got to that point of ‘No, that’s it, I’ve had enough’ but then carried on anyway. And deep down, I knew I had to do that too.

Because I couldn’t let go of the dream completely. The image of wandering into a bookshop and picking up my own book from a bookshelf had been with me since I was ten years old. It was stubborn.

So if you’re the same and you have that stubborn dream then please keep going. Keep doing what you love. Keep putting it out into the world, however hard that feels at times. Because things can change really quickly.

You never know when that YES might just appear.

It certainly surprised the hell out of me!

 

‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place’ – Author Unknown

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16
December

My picks for Xmas 2016 – Part 2: Young Adult

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Following on from my last post where I highlighted my favourite MG titles, here are the Young Adult titles I’ve loved reading this year – not all new releases, but new to me!

Being Billy – Phil Earle

Bird – Crystal Chan

The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

Beautiful Broken Things –  Sara Barnard

More of Me – Kathryn Evans

Lorali – Laura Dockrill

Lobsters – Lucy Evison and Tom Elen

Paper Butterflies – Lisa Heathfield.

Instructions for a Second Hand Heart – Tamsyn Murray

One – Sarah Crossan

And really there are so many more I could have added.

But whatever books you curl up with over the holidays I wish you a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

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16
December

My picks for Xmas 2016 Part One – Middle Grade

2016-favs-part-1

Well it’s been a strange old year, 2016 – but I won’t dwell on all the global shenanigans.

On a personal level it’s been very exciting as it’s the year I got my first book deal! And yes I am still eating cake and celebrating!

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ and the next two books ‘The Boy Who Lived with Dragons’ and ‘The Boy Who Flew With Dragons’ have found a wonderful home with Piccadilly Press and I am beyond thrilled that they will actually be out in the world on book shelves. OK, it is a bit of a wait with the release being in 2018 but it doesn’t stop my excitement!

I’ve read some fantastic books this year and I find it far too hard to just choose a top 3 or anything sensible like that – but I’ve managed to squeeze my absolute favourites into a top ten, in three categories. I know – hopeless! But that’s the best I can do!

So if there are any of these you haven’t read, I’d heartily recommend adding them to your Santa list!

Marvellous Middle Grade

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Cogheart – Peter Bunzl.

The Shadow Keeper – Abi Elphinstone

The Secert Life of Daisy Fitzjohn – Tania Unsworth

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth – Katherine Woodfine

Fire Witch – Matt Ralphs

The Apprentice Witch – James Nicol

Through the Mirror Door – Sarah Baker

Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

And finally here are the books I’m really looking forward to in 2017. It already looks like it might give 2016 a run for its money!

Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory – Lorraine’s pitch for this had me hooked in about 5 seconds.

Letter from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll – a mystery set in WW2 featuring evacuees, refugees, coded messages, German pilots, fox terriers and marrowbone sandwiches. Holy moley, I love Emma’s books!

The new book from Kiran Millwood Hargrave – another standalone story set on an island with a hint of magic – I can’t wait!

Moonlocket by Peter Bunzl the sequel to the utterly fantastic Cogheart

The fourth Mango and Bambang book from dymanic duo Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy.

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber – I’ve heard so much about this for such a long time I can’t help but be intrigued!

The Night Spinner, the third part of The Dreamsnatcher trilogy by Abi Elphinstone. I can’t wait to see what Moll gets up to next.

Who Let the Gods Out by Mary Evans. This sounds hugely fun and the best thing is there are four books coming!

Check out the YA books I’ve loved reading this year in the next post!

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13
September

Staring up at the Mountain

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They say visualisation is a powerful tool to bring about change. Well, in the wrong hands it’s a powerful tool to bring you to a standstill, too!

I’ve spent the last few weeks picturing myself like this: an ant looking up at Mount Everest. So you can probably see why I’ve been struggling to get started. And OK, I realise we are just talking about writing a book here, I mean it’s words on a page at the end of the day. But I’m nothing if not overly dramatic in my visualisations! Which can sometimes be a good thing but sometimes, like here, backfires badly.

Back in May I received my offer from Piccadilly Press (I shouted about it pretty loud but if you happened to miss that bit of news then click here) And what’s more they wanted three books.

I was over the moon and I’m still up there to be honest. Over the last four months I have been editing Book One – The Boy Who Grew Dragons. It’s been through some changes since it started out as a picture book idea back in 2012, but that’s a whole other post. Let’s just say I’m getting an inkling of just how much work is involved in getting a book into print. The only trouble is, knowing what I know now, I’ve been psyching myself out about the fact that I have to do it again – twice in fact.

So I’ve been this ant staring up at the snowy peaks and shuffling from foot to foot hoping I might miraculously get lifted up to that far away summit by some benevolent bird.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve been a busy ant – checking my boots and other essential equipment, planning my route, collecting provisions. (Basically gathering ideas, working on outlines for the next books and baking too many scones) But I haven’t dared start the journey out of base camp.

Until yesterday, when I took that first step. And it felt good. And now I’m singing as I trudge along. (I started out skipping, but it was a long day yesterday so I’m trudging this morning) But I’m going to keep my eyes on each step I take – and avert my gaze from the distant heights of the summit. For now anyway.

So if like me you’re feeling like a tiny ant at the foot of a great big mountain, let me visualise my ant-self reaching out a hand to your ant-self, to help you take that first little – but momentous- step.
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“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” – Dr Seuss

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1
July

Celebrating a Star!

IMG_20160630_200653734Last night was the launch of ‘Strange Star‘ by Emma Carroll, a book I’ve been dying to get my hands on for months!

I’ve said before that Emma writes exactly the books I want to read – time and again. And when I heard the words ‘Lord Byron’ ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘deliciously creepy’ I knew this one was going to be no exception.

 

 

 

IMG_20160630_201053278I haven’t read it yet so for a full review head over to the fabulous Bookloverjo’s site to find out more about it.

But in the mean time here are a few pics from a wonderful launch last night.

One of the loveliest things about writing and being on this road to publication is all the brilliant people I’ve met along the way. Turns out people who write for children genuinely are as lovely as the books they write.

IMG_20160630_195136109With the – yes you guessed it – lovely (!) Peter Bunzl and James Nicoll – look out for ‘Cogheart’ (out later in the summer) and ‘The Apprentice Witch’ (out 7th July – that’s next week!) and for brilliant news and reviews check out Jo’s awesome blog.

 

 

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The fabulous MG Leonard author of the brilliant ‘Beetle Boy’ –  can’t wait for the sequel next year! If you haven’t already read it go grab a copy!

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160630_201811777Matt Ralphs wrote one of my (& my son’s) favourite books from last year – ‘Fire Girl’ –  we’ve both been eagerly waiting for the sequel ‘Fire Witch’ – and it’s coming soon, August this year!

 

 

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Two to watch ! Mary Alice Evans ‘Who let the Gods Out’  and Lorraine Gregory ‘Mold and the Poison Plot’ – both to be unleashed in 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And finally one for my agent Jo Williamson – 3 of her writers – with Jess Vallance author of ‘Birdy’ and soon to be released ‘The Yellow Room’ and Peter.

 

 

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27
June

A story for life not just for Christmas

father christmas

One of the best things about writing for children is that a big part of the job is reading books for children. Although, it may say something about the size of my TBR pile that I’m finally getting to this one in July having picked it up in the festive season!

I nearly didn’t open it, since it’s called ‘A Boy Called Christmas’. I thought I’d wait another 6 months and read it in the time of tinsel. But given this weather and the downhearted feeling brought on by the news I reached for that word Christmas.

And I’m so glad I did.

I also rather wish everyone could take a minute to read this particular book about spreading goodwill.

Here’s to the joy and wonder of stories, showing us what amazing things you can do ‘with the right magic and belief inside you’.

Thankyou Matt Haig – Definitely a story for life, not just for Christmas!

 

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